A short-term cross-cultural experience can make a big difference: to a community and to the missionary themselves. Abi had wanted to serve God in The Gambia for a while, and a short-term placement with WEC gave her exactly the opportunity she wanted.
My parents were WEC missionaries in The Gambia for over 15 years, so this mission trip was an opportunity for me to go home. Since leaving as a teenager in 2011, I’d wanted to return and, after finishing teacher training and getting some teaching experience, I thought it was a good time to go back. During my visit, I served at a private christian primary school, run by the Evangelical Church of The Gambia.
The joy of reading
I taught library class, which is a lesson that promotes reading. I helped set up the library using donated books, and we had total freedom to develop and use the library as we wanted. One of my prayers was that I’d have an opportunity to use my phonics training, and the school directors asked us to start an after-school reading club focusing on phonics!
I loved these classes as they provided opportunities to excite the children about books, and build a culture of reading. Unlike the UK, very few people in The Gambia own books. The library became the pride of the school. It was great to see the children (most of whom were Muslims) choosing to read from the library’s wide selection of christian literature, and fighting over reading the Bibles too!
I had to avoid being openly evangelistic, but from time to time I’d read Bible stories during library class, and the children were often more interested in these than in fictional stories. One time, there was a bit of a stir among the muslim students because a christian student called Jesus the Son of God – it led onto some interesting discussions.
What I enjoyed most was building relationships. The students often visited my home after school and we’d play games, bake or practice reading together. Some children visited regularly and I was able to share the gospel and pray with them. One girl surprised me with her faith in Jesus, and the sincerity of her praying. I asked her what she most wanted, and she replied: to know she is forgiven and to go to heaven. We prayed, asking God for forgiveness, and she poured out her heart to him. Though her mum was a Muslim, she was happy for me to give her daughter a Bible and take her to church. This girl is influential among her peers and if she commits to the Lord, I’m convinced God will use her powerfully. Please pray for her!
One girl surprised me with her faith in Jesus, and the sincerity of her praying. We prayed, asking God for forgiveness, and she poured out her heart to him. Though her mum was a Muslim, she was happy for me to give her daughter a Bible and take her to church.
Another time, an inquisitive boy followed me home on a bike. He was asking me questions like: ‘Are you Muslim?’ and ‘If you’re a Christian, why don't you smoke?’. He made statements like: ‘All Christians are bad’, ‘Jesus is a bad man’ and ‘The Bible is not good’. I challenged him by asking if he’d ever read the Bible and, to my surprise, he was happy to sit down and read from a children’s Bible with me. At first, he hated seeing pictures or reading stories about Jesus, but he came back on a number of occasions, bringing friends with him, to hear more.
Part of the family
I loved being back in The Gambia. There were more challenges than I’d realised growing up there, but also lots of unique opportunities. My main prayer was to make some good female friends, but it was often the men who talked more. Most women spoke Wolof, making it hard for me to join in with them, and I realised that knowing the local language helps to access the local culture. I made an effort to learn Wolof in my first few months but it was hard to keep up.
Eventually I made some good female friends. I spent New Year at the beach with the church, where I had so much fun teaching the women how to swim. That was the first time I felt a strong sense of belonging to the Gambian Church. Being part of the local church while there, and spending time with the Pastor’s family, taught me to value people, and to see church as family too.
Why WEC Short Term?
I’d definitely recommend joining a WEC short-term mission. With WEC, there’s a really good network of support from the sending base and the in-country team. Our mission team met once a month for prayer, worship, teaching and business. We also met weekly in small groups, which was a really valuable time of fellowship.
Find out more about Short Term placements here.